The Perennial Care Manual - A Plant-by-Plant Guide: What to Do & When to Do It

by Nancy J. Ondra (Storey Publishing, 2009, 375 pgs.)


If you are planning on installing a new perennial garden or revamping an existing one, it may be time to consult an expertly written guide to garden installation, care, and maintenance. The well-illustrated Perennial Care Manual includes four chapters on perennial care basics and a handy plant-by-plant guide to perennial care and maintenance. Nancy J. Ondra is the author or coauthor of 11 gardening books, including Foliage, Fallscaping, The Perennial Care Manual, and The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer.

Chapter 1 focuses on creating a perennial garden that is easy to maintain. Site selection, including taking into account sun exposure, soil conditions, and climate considerations, is an important first step. Ondra also briefly addresses soil preparation, including sod removal and raised beds. Reworking or adding to established gardens is also covered.

Plant care is the subject of Chapter 2, starting with tips on planting or transplanting perennials. Ondra also provides helpful advice on when and how much to water, including a seasonal watering calendar. Soil is revisited in Chapter 2, this time with a focus on soil improvement and fertilization, as well as mulching. Mulch is given special attention, with many tips on choosing and using it. A discussion of spring and fall garden maintenance includes tips on preparing the garden for winter. A brief overview of perennial propagation introduces the concepts of dividing perennials, taking cuttings, and growing perennials from seed.

Chapter 3 is titled “Keeping Up Appearances.” Most of the tasks covered in this chapter need to be performed in the late spring, summer, and early fall. A handy plant-grooming calendar summarizes what needs to be done when. Tasks covered in Chapter 3 include pruning, thinning, deadheading, pinching, shearing, staking, dividing, and dealing with garden debris.

The fourth chapter is devoted to addressing problems in the perennial garden, such as pests and weeds. Ondra discusses the symptoms that plants tend to exhibit and what the diagnosis for each symptom might be. For example, leaf-eating beetles often leave a lacy outline of a leaf behind. A lack of flowers might indicate that a perennial has been planted too deep or in the wrong location. A “perennial pest gallery” and an “animal pest gallery” with close-up photos of various insect and mammal pests and advice on combating them are also included. Beneficial insects and their important role in the garden are discussed briefly. A “perennial disease gallery” provides helpful close-up photos of the manifestations of various diseases, such as blight, rust, and leaf spots. Common weeds are also given the close-up gallery treatment.

Part Two of The Perennial Care Manual makes up about half of the book and provides an A-to-Z guide to commonly grown perennials. Each one- to three-page entry includes a color photo, growing tips, guidance on seasonal care, and troubleshooting advice. A handy cross-reference guide lists the plants by common name.

The Perennial Care Manual provides an excellent overview of the basics of perennial gardening. You can refer to this book to fuel your garden daydreams or to solve a pressing garden dilemma. Nancy Ondra’s clear and concise writing style and Rob Cardillo’s beautiful color photos make this an inviting book to read from cover to cover or to consult as needed.

Reviewed by Andrea Kingston, RCGC library volunteer, June 2012.